Since it is the Summer Olympics right now, we wanted to feature some active dogs who train much like the athletes in the Olympics. We reached out to the Hunter Aussies to get an idea of what the daily life of an agility dog looks like. Enjoy!
5:30am – 6:30am: Rise and Shine!
If you’ve ever had a puppy, you know that sleeping is something you just have to give up for a while until they get old enough, similar to a newborn. Orion wakes me up every morning at 5:30am; sometimes I’m lucky and he sleeps until 5:45. After sleepily throwing on his harness I walk outside of my apartment complex, treat in one hand, Earth Rated poop bags in the other. After he finishes up his duty, we run back inside to wake up/tire him out a bit. I repeat with my two other dogs while my husband snoozes in the other room; the dogs in the morning are my responsibility.
Now comes the fun part of the morning: breakfast! Breakfast for Jinx and Orion consists of healthy dog food, and Brizzy, our agility dog, gets a very special blend of raw food. Today Brizzy’s breakfast is turkey hearts, chicken trim, an organ mash and a big thread herring (scales and all). For puppy mill rescues like Brizzy, allergies are a huge problem; she has so many that my vet has recommended this diet just for her.
7:00am – 7:30am: Let’s Go!
Depending on the day, we either go straight to training or for a jog to the dog park to play on the public equipment they have there. I don’t have my own equipment since my husband and I only have an apartment, so this is the best we can get besides renting the field at my training facility. Brizzy tends to enjoy this more, especially the jog. Since Orion is too young, he tends to stay at home and enjoy a nap.
Down here in Florida it’s very hot, so Brizzy is never without her dog shoes, especially during her jog in which the pavement can be insanely hot during even the morning hours. Safety first, always! I pack up the car with Brizzy’s soft crate, training treats, her agility leash and a few other knick knacks that help with the training sessions.
8:00am – 10:00am: Time to Train!
It’s amazing seeing Brizzy’s mind work sometimes, and it amazes me how she knows exactly when it’s time to work instead of play. From the moment we drive up to the field, she is ready. She doesn’t whine or bark at the dogs outside of the car, she stares intently at the field, like she knows exactly what she is there for and her purpose at that moment.
Brizzy is still only a beginner in the grand scheme of all things agility, and there’s so much more for her to learn but I never doubt her. Her drive to learn and work is outstanding, and I strive constantly to be as driven as she is in my everyday life. She waits patiently for me to grab her leash and hook her; she never jumps out of the car until I tell her it’s time.
After a few happy greetings to our classmates, we wait patiently for the instructor to come. She’s a marvelous shorter lady who commands respect with her stance alone, and Brizzy knows it well. Depending on the day we can be going over any exercise, today it’s weave poles, one of hardest things for an agility dog to learn. Our instructor has a great way of teaching the dogs how to weave, and while Brizzy is already a great weaver, she can tend to try to outsmart us and not finish her poles each time. Practice always makes perfect, and while we go over the poles, I guide Brizzy along with my voice and hand through each pole.
Next up is contact practice, this can also be a challenge for some dogs since contact and target practice is such a huge part of everything that comes along with agility. Basically, target practice is when you teach a dog to stop, nose to the ground and wait for your command to follow (but you can use it for a bunch of other things, including obedience training as well). We use simple dog food can covers here at practice for targets to concentrate on, but you can probably use just about anything bright that contrasts well with the ground. We also use a wooden board on the grass; this is so the dog realizes their back paws are on something and makes them aware of their rear end which is extremely important during any run.
Brizzy tends to only need a few feet to realize it’s time to go, runs across her board guided by some garden fence and stops with her front two paws on the grass, nose to the target waiting patiently for me to reward her. Two treats later, I run past then call her to follow, only then does she release to me for another reward. We repeat this a few times, taking frequent breaks. In the Florida humidity it doesn’t matter that we work in shade, dogs can easily overheat; we make sure each dog is rested between each exercise in their individual crates with water. Between these exercises we listen intently to the instructor as she tells us what we can work on by ourselves at home and how to do so.
When it’s summer down here in Florida, it’s very hard to go outside and work our dogs for a significant amount of time. Practices normally only last about an hour, with 25-30 minutes of it being used working our dogs. The instructor stresses the importance of using every day household items to work and practice indoors for our dogs’ sakes and reminds us they will easily be able to understand when we’re out in the field again. By this time Brizzy is pretty much exhausted and wants nothing more than to jump in her crate and lay down panting.
The instructor releases us to go, reminds us what we can each work on over the week individually and will be sending us some videos to watch on our next exercises if we wish to practice a bit on our own. I bring Brizzy to the car first, turning it on and waiting for the air conditioning to circulate the car fully before bringing her in. I let her relax and run to grab her crate and other items.
11:00am – 8:00pm: Rest!
The rest of the day for Brizzy is mostly rest; you can’t overexert any dog to learning things constantly. They need time to rest and enjoy just being a dog; I can’t stress this enough. Exhausting your dog will only lead to more problems in the end and can easily lead to injuries or worse. I keep her in the air conditioning for the rest of the day while I work with Orion on basic commands and recall. I only bring her out to go on a nice mile walk with Jinx after the sun goes down. It’s still humid, but it’s no longer in the 90’s, so she’s easily able to regulate her temperature.
I tend to take this time to plan her next training session as well as our next outing to the lake or beach. Recreational exercise is extremely important for any dog, but especially a dog you want to condition such as a performance dog. After we get back from our walk, we all get ready for bed while I watch the videos the instructor sent to us to review while planning her training at the dog park the next day. Every day is training in some way, even everyday things such as a walk around the neighborhood is an opportunity to train something simple.
For an agility dog, there’s never really stopping, you’re always learning.
Guest post by Ashley Hunter, proud dog mom to Brizzy, Jinx, and Orion. You may follow their adventures on Instagram.